era of racing in Exhibition Stadium on the Canadian National Exhibition
grounds in Toronto began in 1952. Drivers like Ted Hogan, Norm Brioux,
Jimmy Howard, Harvey Lennox, Wallie Branston, Norm Lelliott, Howie
Scannell, Jack Cook and many others became local stars. Huge crowds
of up to 19,000 came to see these drivers rub fenders each week.
Unfortunately, the track closed at the end the of the 1966 season
to make way for a Centennial track-and-field meet.
The stock car racing did not return the next season and for the next few years Exhibition Stadium was the home of the Toronto Argonauts and later the Toronto Blue Jays. The only racing to be seen was the annual Molson Supercross in the 1980s. In 1989 Skydome opened and Exhibition Stadium sat unused as the Argos and Blue Jays moved to the new stadium.
The City of Toronto and Exhibition Place Board of Governors looked for something to fill the stadium once again. Racing seemed to be the ticket. It made sense because all the required infrastructure was in place. The only thing needed was the track itself. The facility would be very unique in that it would have:
- a 17,000 seat, covered grandstand
- paved, well-lit pit area
- well-lit track surface
- large concession facilites
- large, modern washrooms (at least by race track standards)
- located in the middle of a city of over 2 million people
- large, instant replay scoreboard
- huge, paved parking area
- on public transit lines
It seemed like
a sure success. Well, read on and find out what really happened.
The City of Toronto approved a one-year program with conditions
for the second and third years. A telephone line was set up for
residents of Parkdale to make complaints (insert ominous music here).
About $600,000 was spent preparing the facility. Because of the positioning of the uncovered grandstands, the track was egg-shaped. Turns 1 and 2 were sweeping and turns 3 and 4 were very tight. The track configuration of 1950s and 1960s was a traditional oval. The original grandstand on the back straight was built for the stadium's reconfiguration to support football in 1959. This grandstand was demolished and replaced in 1976, ready for the 1977 inaugral Toronto Blue Jays season. It angled toward the covered grandstand to support a baseball configuration, thus leading to the egg-shaped track in 1990. The 1990 track was 1/3 mile long and 75 feet wide. It was completely flat, except for a 3-inch elevation on the outside for drainage. Labatt was signed on a sponsor and using their Budweiser brand name, the races became known as the "Exhibition Place presents Bud Stocks". Other sponsors were Player's Ltd, Chrysler Canada, Sony Canada, Becker's, Coca-Cola and The Toronto Star.
Regular racing featured CASCAR Late Models on Thursday nights and the Can-Am Midgets and Hobby Club (now known as the Canadian Vintage Modifieds) on Sunday afternoons. Regular admission was set at $8 for adults, children under 12 were free. Special events included the CASCAR General Tire Super Series on May 26 and back again on Oct 6. Also scheduled were an Enduro (run to Delaware rules) on July 1, Monster Trucks on September 2 and a demolition derby on August 26. The Pro-Four class was added part way through the year. Also added later was an American-Canadian Tour race.
It was originally announced that the races would run rain or shine in the tradition of the earlier CNE racing. This proved to be unfeasible with the state of race cars in 1990 and this idea was dropped before the season started. One event did run in the rain though and that was the Enduro. Being run under Delaware rules, the cars had to have windshield wipers. The 250-lap Enduro was won by Ron Book. The Enduro featured nineteen year-old Brad Corcoran who finished in the top 5. Brad later moved up to Late Model and was Mosport champion in 1999 and 2000.
The first CASCAR
General Tire Super Series event was on May 26, rained out from the
week earlier. A huge field of 53 cars showed up for the Budweiser
Triple 50's. Dan Shirtliff set the fastest qualifying time. The
cars were split into two semi-final 50 lap races with the top 12
cars from each moving on to the 50-lap final race. Don Mallat and
Rob Neely won the two semi-final races. In the 50-lap final race
Mallat and Jack Monaghan battled for the first 30 laps but Mallat
pulled away and led unchallenged to the end to take the win. Monaghan
finished second and Neely took third. There were about 2,500 fans
in attendance. The Super Series cars were posting mid 16 second
The General Tire Super Series returned to the CNE on the weekend of October 5-6. Saturday saw the qualifying and heat races while the triple-50s were run on the Sunday. Rob Neely and Dan Shirtliff won the 50-lap semi-final races. Don Mallet took the lead on lap 5 of the 50-lap final and battled with Randy Latour for most of the race. Latour passed Mallet for the win on the back straight of the last lap when Mallet slowed to avoid Dave Whitlocks's hood that had come off his car. Mallet finished second and Rob Neely was third.
Jason Shaw dominated the Hobby Club by winning eight features and the points championship. Other feature winners in the Hobby class included Gary Elliott, Al Haringa Jr, Bruce Lindsay, Dave Bentley and Ray Hughes.
in Can-Am Midget included eventual points champion Dave McKnight,
Andy Mackereth, Ken Lorenz, Dave Balych, Arnie Bray, Norm Eberschlag,
Jim Johnstone and George Gilbert. Midget lap times were in the low
14 second range.
The CASCAR Late Models saw the appearance of some drivers who later moved to the Super Series. Feature winners included points champion Jason Latour, Dan Shirtliff, Howie Scannell Jr and others.
By all accounts, the racing was very good in all divisions. The promoters did very little advertising though and as such, crowds were very small. There were sometimes less than 1,000 fans in the stands. Advertising was increased as the year went on and the crowds got larger, ranging between 3,000 and 6,000 fans.
In the fall of 1990 plans were being made for the 1991 season but there was trouble brewing. The races had lost money and some residents of Parkdale had been complaining about the noise. Some of the complaints seemed to stem from a bias against racing rather than any reality. One complaint was the increased traffic brought to the area. This argument seems to lack merit, given that there were only 3,000 - 6,000 fans there most nights and about 1,000 people at times. For years the Blue Jays had crowds of 30,000 - 50,000 and no one complained about that traffic. There were less than half as many race days as there were baseball games as well. In the spring of 1991 the City of Toronto refused to allow the races to continue and stock car racing at the CNE was dead again.
Well, not quite dead yet. Racing at the CNE had one more fling in August of 1997. You don't remember it? Of course not; no one knew it was even happening. It was called "Extreme Motorsports" and was scheduled to run each day of the 1997 Canadian National Exhibition. There were to be Can-Am Midgets, Legends Cars, a vintage stock car group, and a celebrity race using the Legends cars. The Midgets pulled out citing the unsafe nature of the track preparation. There was no advertising at all. The only mention of the event was a one liner in the CNE visitor guide giving it the same coverage as fiddle players and hog judging. Extreme Motorsports didn't even finish the whole Ex - it was cancelled part way through. And then, stock car racing at the CNE was truly dead. Exhibition Stadium was demolished in 1999 and the site is now BMO Field, home of Toronto FC.